Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Chapter 14


1. How has my faith become more of a reflection of the world than a judgment on the world (clothing styles/Fashion? Language? Lifestyle? Material Goods? Goals?)?

I live in a comfortable home, in a gated community, drive a newer car, attend a nice church, am safe, sleep well, and live quite satisfactorily. I dress well, with a good selection so clothing, everyone around me speaks the same language, so I am not challenged in that way. I live an average life, in an average American setting. Only my moral standards, preaching, and teaching cause me to stand out. But the typical person with whom I come into contact may not be aware that I am a believer. While I tend to reject ostentation, do not seek good income, or safety, neither am I terrible public in my announcement of God's judgement on the world and its self absorption.

2. How has the church I attend imitated the world?

Comfortable, well-dressed, well-paid, safe, Georgian architecture, nice safe building with security build in and scheduled, people focus on sports, restaurants, social activities similar to nonbelievers, seek comfort, ease, safety, and well-being, worry about health, retirement, rest, time off...

3. How has the family/living environment/workplace/social setting in which I currently exist become too attached to the world?

By seeking approval from neighbors, friends, family. Compliments to acquire social capital rather than exhorting to advance the Kingdom. Self interest, keeping up with the Jones's, lack of sacrifice, marginal commitment to faith and greater commitment to a political perspective. Worships American Federalism/Form of Gov't, and assumed historical narrative of "Christian Nation." BUT MOSTLY BY THINKING WE CAN MAKE USE OF THE THE THINGS OF THIS WORLD WITHOUT BE USED BY THE WORLD TO APPLAUD ITSELF.

4. How can I be more “in the world” and yet less “worldly”?

I am currently seeking a setting that would compel greater sacrifice, allow a more bold demonstration of my faith, and an increased level of service for the Kingdom.

5. What is God saying to me about this?

Consider carefully my next steps!

Tozer: The Size of the Soul

“Secularized fundamentalism is a horrible thing, a very horrible thing, much worse in my opinion than honest modernism or outright atheism. It’s all a kind of heart heterodoxy existing along with creedal orthodoxy. Its true master may be discovered by noting whom it admires and imitates.”

Secularized fundamentalism seems to be an apt description of what we are experiencing in the USA today. Protests, riots, looting, anger, vitriol seem to surround this secular fundamentalism which decries “homphobia” or “transphobia,” “systemic racism,” and other artificially construed enemies as a means of cutting off appropriate discussion through false accusation.

It posits a fabricated “orthodoxy” (right belief) which requires a manipulative orthopraxis (right practice) in order too enslave modern day sensibilities. Reasonable discussion is denied. Contrary opinions are unwelcome. Logic is absent. Accusations, gaslighting, and downright dishonesty advance the cause.

As if to add fuel to the fire many of our self-described “progressive denominations” are replacing legitimate Christian orthodoxy with this secularized fundamentalism and proclaiming it from their pulpits as much as any compromised church in Germany did under Hitler’s leadership. Like sheep led to the slaughter their adherents are consuming mass quantities of this pseudo theological kool-aid churchianity to the glory of the father of lies.

I think, in particular of my own former denomination the PC(USA)  which seems so lost along these lines. While there are still faithful leaders and congregational members, the General Assembly seems to consistently cower before the culture and bow before the altar of this secularized fundamentalism.

Tozer directs us: “What is the remedy? It is simple. A radical return to New Testament Christianity both in message and method. A bold repudiation of the world and a taking up of the cross. Such a return on any wide scale will mean a reformation of vast proportion.”

Hence my own personal, and I hope your desire, for renewal, for revivial. And frankly, I’m beginning to wonder if COVID19 might just be a means God might use to move us forward toward that end.

I wonder, how may are willing, as Tozer asks, to “pay the price”?

Just more "wonderings" as I process this chapter. Your thoughts?


Monday, July 27, 2020

Initial Reactions Aren't Always Best!

Wow! Just Wow! I am seriously in awe right now of how timely this week's Tozer (chapt 14) reading is.

Many have long lamented the sell-out of, particularly, non-denominiational, independent, contemporary congregations' mimicry of the world - in their theological sloppiness, their theatrical worship, and their overall arrogance in opposition to organized religion's, missional outreach, and attractional programs.


Look at many of the worship "stages" these days with cosmetically enhanced singers and preachers, tatooed and pierced worship leaders dressed to look like Justin Beiber, preachers who seems to take an unhealthy interest in poking fun at the legalism of scripture and casting it all as grace such that anyone who uses the name of Jesus must be saved, and making it clear that obedience, righteousness, and holiness mean little to nothing.

Examine the emotional and evocative pouring out of one's needy soul on camera to increase giving. Consider the appointment of "pastors" who are under educated in theology and over practiced in sin and debauchery of life. Think upon the Pentecostal giftings walking hand in hand with coarse language, bar hopping, and pornographic addiction or the Charismatic tendency toward self proclaimed prophecy, apostolic annointing, and end-times theology based on the news cycle of any given day rather than the legitimate call of God. 

Of course this may well be set in contrast to the dearth of empty pews and funeral dirge organ led hymnody in the former mainline (now relegated to sideline) denominations which refuse to move from their personal and twisted interpretation of what the "Church' was when they were growing up, insisting instead that the church is a part of their DNA and that they know far better than any newcomers how to run "Their Church," even as they struggle to make ends meet because their commitments, at their core, are shallow, based on a desire for self-control over Spirit control.

But, I digress. This week's reading considers the church tendency toward the emulation, copying, or imitation of the culture by the church.  We see it in the contemporary music scene, in an attempt to "claim for Jesus" a style that may do everything but glorify Him.  We see it in the rdio broadcasts of "positive encouraging": stations who compromise truth for familiarity, friendliness, and gentility, further enabling the dysfunction of newborn Christians...the church "of the world" not just "in the world." A growing movement into universalism in broadcasting.

When the church looks like the world, when people don't know immediately and decisively who the Christians are by our speech and our behavior, which is RADICALLY different from the world, we have compromised the faith and grieved the Holy Spirit.


(It's about enough to make one think this whole COVID 19 may be the best thing that has happened to us in a long long time, if it awakens us to our true neediness as a church.)

Well, I guess, my rant is about finished.  There will be a lot to unpack this week, and only time, prayer, and conversation with the Lord of the Harvest will reconcile all this to His glory... Let's pray for wisdom for these trying days for the church of Jesus Christ, to Whom be all Glory and Honor, forever. Amen. Because we know the One who is the Beginning and the End, the great I AM, the Amen!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Chapter 13

1. What can I actually testify to have seen, heard, or otherwise personally experienced regarding my faith in Christ?

2. What “catch words” do I usually listen for from other people to authenticate their faith?

3. How might that change in my immediate circumstances?

4. What new words/expressions of personal faith have I heard recently?

5. What is God saying to me about this?



Monday, July 20, 2020

Words, words, words!


I wonder what kinds of words you associate with "empty Christian rhetoric"?  I sometimes think that the phrase "praise Jesus!" is used too much for filler or transition.  For a while there was a responsive phrase going around where the worship leader would say "God is good," and the people would respond "all the time!" And then the leader would say "All the time," and the people would respond "God is good!"  An acquaintance of mine would often talk about how is wife "is just on fire for Jesus!" even when it just seemed an unnatural part of the conversation.

In any conversation, depending upon on the subject, there seem to be requisite words, coded language, to let people know that we are a part of the "in crowd."  In Presbyterianism these phases include "diverse voices," and "big tent," and "social justice."  In our American culture today it's "Black Lives Matter," or "Thin Blue Line," or "Make America Great," or "White Privilege." These are all phrases that are easily interpreted in a variety of ways, but in and of themselves are less than helpful in accomplishing anything other signalling to others our willingness to be associated or our desire to be approved by certain groups of people.

For quite some time I have been enamored of the phrases "image management" and "social capital." Both of these phrases have a much deeper meaning but are often bandied about to help us appear to be doing something we may not be doing, or overemphasizing something that is useless. 

"Image management" is a direct reference to the things we do, the phrases we use, the projection we give, the clothes we wear, et cetera, to manage our image, to make people think we are a particular type of someone (see https://yourstory.com/2014/08/really-image-management?utm_pageloadtype=scroll).

"Social capital" refers to the credit we build in our relationships by complimenting others, doing favors for others, investing in others, so that we might utilize them and their credibility and their affirmation to help us feel better about ourselves or to advance our own standing (see https://www.dictionary.com/browse/social-capital).

This week we will consider the phraseology that we use, inappropriately, in our Christian circles. Just as important as the spiritual food of which we partake (versus the secular food with which we too often engorge ourselves) is the verbage we use to advance the Kingdom - the empty rhetoric versus the meaningful phraseology. This continues Tozer's desire for us to create within ourselves an environment into which the Spirit of the Lord can comfortably reside, ardently lead, and even forcefully advance his Kingdom.  Words should have meaning...
And so most importantly - What have seen actually witnessed, seen, and heard, to which we can testify? And how can our words more fully convey the majesty and the mystery of the God whose Kingdom we advance, and whose grace we have experienced?

Friday, July 17, 2020

Babies will do that!

My apologies for the delay in getting the questions for chapter 12 posted.  I'll readily admit being distracted by that charming young man named James Arthur Hallead. At just 9 lbs and 22 inches his distraction element far exceeds his physical size.  More on that perhaps latter, but for now here are the questions.

1. In what ways does the joy of the Lord permeate my life?


2. In what ways has my growth as a Christian been hindered by “Bible Teachers” or “Church Members”?


3. How has my faith been helped by those groups?


4. In what ways might my life or actions be hindering someone here? What can I do to maximize my positive impact?


5.  What is God saying to me about this?

Thursday, July 16, 2020

BEWARE!!!


This is going to be one of those weeks in which the reading may easily take us down rabbit trails.  We could become entangled in recalling our own history with people who were less than helpful in our Christian growth, we could get caught up in just what our conversion experience was like, we could even feed our judgmental attitude toward those who doesn't believe quite the same way that we do.

The main focus will need to be upon our own growth in grace, how, why, what now sorts of questions help pus understand the plight that we may face.  Christian growth is often retarded by those who follow the standards of churchianity, or their own interpretation, or...



There are ample folks in today's world eager to expose "fake Christians."  The point however is to examine just how we might properly discern our growth amidst the presence of fake Christians (and others) and provide the kind of environment into which others can grow up into Christ.

And all of this takes us back to the amount of time we spend listening to secular music, watching television and movies that mock or ignore faith issues, the relationships we maintain which interfere with our growth or whic do not provid a witness of integrity to our faith, etc.

We often told our children to remember: "what goes in here (point to our eyes) and here (point to our ears), lives in here (point to our head) and here (point to our heart), and comes out here (point to our mouths).  We cannot exist in, become a part of, endorse, celebrate, and participate in a pagan culture and expect to grow in our faith. Neither can we so separate ourselves that we don't have to deal with the problem.  But we MUST be in the world without being apart of it. And that means monitoring very carefully what we expose ourselves to.

Watching just a little pornography, getting tipsy just once in awhile, using only a bit of profanity, is like eating brownies that just have a llittle bit of arsenic. Over time, it will build up...

More later, off to replace a toilet, symbolically appropriate enough!

Friday, July 10, 2020

Whose Hands? Whose Feet?

We've heard it many times, "God has no hands but ours..." or "We are God's hands." It's a cute but trite phrase and even more gravely, it is just wrong theologically.  We re NOT God's eyes, or God's hands, or God's feet...

Tozer brings this to the front in this week's lesson, and it bears consideration as we answer the questions.

1.  He does not turn His work over to us. He works in and through us, around us and with us, sometimes in spite of us.  But he does not give his work over to us.  It is He who is at work, IF we let him.

2.  While he expects us to make use of the gifts He has given us, He doesn't necessarily call us according to our abilities, or gifting.  One of the worst questions we ask our children is "What do you want to be when you grow up?" We talk about what we were gifted to do, what we felt our strengths were, what we did for God, how we served God...but all to often it was without a calling to do that work. "Much religious work is being done these days that is not owned by our Lord and will not be accepted or rewarded in that great day."

If we look to scripture we see Moses not being called in accordance with his desires or abilities.  Neither Paul, nor David, nor Abraham, nor Noah... God most often calls us to tasks we don't think we can do so that we don't get the credit. Our great surprise should be not that we were bright enough, trained well enough, properly situated, or raised well, or able to pursue our dreams, or accomplish something, but that we were used at all, that God took pity on us and used us. That is the very essence of humility.

A member of my family said "you can serve God anywhere." While this may be a factually true statement as it applies to God's abilities, it is theologically weak, almost meaningless when used to justify our neglect of listening for His call.  To serve God we must put ourselves at His complete control.  If we say, "I couldn't..." He just might.

I have often heard people say "I couldn't do what they do" when they see someone else doing something amazing. The truth is the other person didn't do it, if it was amazing.  God did it. And God can and will do it, through us, if we would only make ourselves available. And to do great things for God, will most often, if not always, involve doing the very thing we never thought we could do. And in fact, that might be the very thing to which we were or are called.  But it is Him who does the work, always, and forever. Nothing we do in our own strength, in our own desire, in our own way, making use of our own abilities, has any merit in eternity. Only what he does counts. And what He does in us and through us should astound us.

Chapter 11 Questions

  Character I: Week 11 Who Does the Work of God? Chapter 11


1. Missionaries in some countries are often accused of being so busy with Christian work that they don’t have time to be Christian. What do I understand that to mean?


2. How am I dependent upon God to accomplish my work?


3. Does God need to “show up” for me to accomplish my work?


4. In what ways am I working without God?


5. What is God saying to me about this?

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

The King of Glory!


Life, in all it fullness, if we are to experience, must be surrendered to the One who gave it to us. Scripture uses the term "servant"  and "slave." While the Hebrew: עֶבֶד - ebed can mean slave or servant, the Greek: δοῦλος - doulos can only mean slave. Both are used in prophecy for Jesus as well as in reference to those who belong to the Lord.  Both are difficult words in our greater contemporary social context, but absolutely essential words, if we want to experience true and everlasting life.

Our standing in Christ can be summarized thusly:

"We are not our own, we were bought with a price" [1 Corinthians 6:20]

And, accordingly, we take are our model for living from Jesus Christ:

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. [Mark 10:45]

All of this is to introduce Psalm 24, which has been the focus of my devotional time for several days now. It begins:

The earth and everything in it, the world and all its inhabitants, belong to the Lord; for he laid its foundations on the seas and established in on the rivers. [Psalm 24:1-2]. 

God's ownership of everything and everyone in existence is clearly stated.

We belong to God.  This is what makes the earthly, human practice of slavery so WRONG.  As God's creation, made in His image, we cannot be owned, traded, sold, or used as slaves, whether is it through governmental decrees, employment situations, addiction, abuse, or any other conceivable practice. We belong to God. No one else has the right or the position to lay claim to us as The Lord God Almighty does.

We are his people and the sheep of his pasture. [Psalm 100:3]

Inasmuch as Jesus himself came to serve, to give His life, as a ransom for us, this theme is continued. We belong to God and we are designed to serve at His good pleasure and for His good purposes. However, as slaves we may willingly serve our master or willingly disobey and turn from our master, we make that choice in how we live our lives, in the choices we make, in how we use our time, spend our money, and to continue with Tozer's theme - the books we choose to read, etc. Those who are in Christ, who freely take on His yoke, become children of the King and therefore princes and princesses, though we still serve. Those who turn from Him willingly enslave themselves to the father of lies...

Psalm 24 has, at times, puzzled many with its

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who my stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not appealed to what is false, and who has not sworn deceitfully. [Psalm 24: 4-5]

Some consider that this might only refer to Jesus himself, since humanity are all sinners by nature.  The Psalm, however continues:

He will receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. Such is the generation of those who inquire of him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. [Psalm 24:5-6]

There is a whole lot of meaning in these short 2 verses.

1.  It is clear that those who receive the blessing, righteousness, and salvation, are the generation of those who inquire of (or seek) Him; those who seek the face of the God of Jacob (not the God of Esau who also is a descendant of Abraham - cf. Romans 9:6-13). 

2.  It is these people "who may ascend the mountain of the Lord," "who may stand in his holy place."

3.  Those who seek Him are those who search out His ways; those who inquire of Him; those to whom He has revealed Himself...

We, those of us who know and serve Him, are then twice admonished to:

Lift up your heads, you gates!
Rise up, ancient doors!...
[v. 7]

Lift up your heads, you gates!
Rise up, ancient doors!
[v. 9]

These gates, these ancient doors, are those through whom the King of glory will enter the world, those who serve Him with glad hearts, who proclaim His word, who do His work, His servants, His slaves, those who willingly take His mantle, His yoke, upon them. THEN...

Then the King of glory will come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle.
[v. 8]


Then the King of glory will come in.
Who is he, this King of glory?
The Lord of Armies,
he is the King of glory. [v. 10]

What are you waiting for, O sinner? If you are waiting for a sign, this is it.  God will not force His way on anyone. He has freely given us the opportunity to engage in the only work that matters and, therefore, to be on the ultimate right side of HIStory.

What are you waiting for O servant? The King of Glory will come in when you lift up your head, when you rise up and claim your rightful inheritance!  What the Lord has dies for, whom the Lord has claimed, is rightfully His.


"Who knows but that you have come to your royal position
for such a time as this?” [Esther 4:14]

Do you want to receive blessing? Do you want to be considered righteous? Do you want to receive salvation? Inquire of Him! Seek the God of Jacob! Take on the yoke of Christ Jesus! Lift up your head! Rise up! The King of Glory, the Lord of Armies awaits. Serve Him and Him alone!

Monday, July 6, 2020

Lessons Being Learned

 

Before I get into this week's chapter in Tozer, I want to take time to record some of the valuable lessons I am learning as I go through the practical application of this Tozer study.

1. I have changed my reading habits: to be more purposeful in the selection of what I read; more consistent in making the time to read; and more methodical in my attentiveness to the material.

2. For the time being, while I still do some sporadic reading in the theological tomes and Christian classics, I have made the conscious decision to read through the series of missionary biographies I have accumulated over the years. And my faith in God to provide for all my needs  is being refreshed and renewed as I read these great testimonies to the "Heroes of the Faith."

3. While these missionary biographies may be seen by some as more akin to a dime store western level of literature, they do, accurately reflect history.  They are not the fluff of the Historical Fiction that permeates the land, romanticizes the past, and perverts truth to the author's own end.

4. These missonary biographies also convict me as regards the sorry state of my public education in the complete absence of  the history of Christian influence on America of: the First Great Awakening (1730's and 40's); the Second Great Awakening (1800-40); the Urban Revivals - Dwight L Moody (1875-1885); The Welsh and Azusa Street Revivals (early 1900's); the Post WWII and College Revivals  - Billy Sunday, Billy Graham - 1950's; the Charismatic Revival and the Jesus Movement  (1960's); and onwards through the more contemporary revivals such as the Promise Keeper movement. These are some of the greatest social movements in American History, the movements that led to Abolitionist leanings, Temperance movements and Prohibition, Women's right to vote, Equal Rights, and the even the passion we see today for social justice.  Their roots and justification are found in these great movements of the Christian faith.

5.  As I read these biographies, I am also struck by the richness of the language used.  As the biographies quote directly from newspapers of the day, journals and letters written discussing the matters, and speeches and sermons preached, I am awed by the ability of some of these great communicators to weave complex thoughts and practical application so seamlessly..

6. But perhaps most significantly for me personally, is the humanness that is portrayed in the materials. These great giants of the faith, recorded their own struggles with candor and eloquence.

Charles Finney the great revivalist of the mid to late 1800's writes in his journal:

I was also led into a state of great dissatisfaction with my own want of stability in faith and love. To be candid, and to tell the truth, I must say, to the praise of God's grace, He did  not suffer me to backslide, to anything like the same extent, to which manifestly many Christians did backslide.  But I often felt myself weak in the presence of temptation; and needed frequently to hold days of fasting and prayer, and to spend much time in overhauling my own religious life, in order to retain that communion with God, and that hold upon the divine strength, that would enable me to efficiently labor.

I am tempted to spend days simply reflecting on that phrase: "overhauling my own religious faith, in order to retain that communion with God."  After all is that not what this whole endeavor is for?

And, truth be told, we will never grow in our faith, unless or until we get good and dissatisfied with the misappropriation or inadequacy/insufficiency of it as it currently stands. We need to hunger and thirst for more...

I want, and I dare to suggest that many of us likewise want, the quick fix to our faith.  The thought of spending days, weeks, or even months and even years, to overhaul our faith seems unrealistic.  And yet  it is a lifelong pursuit, if we are serious. Finney rarely ceased from ministry, except when he was so overcome with fatigue or disease (cholera and such) that he was literally unable to rise from his bed, much to the chagrin of his friends, family, neighbors and doctors who continually asked him to rest. He persevered in spite of illness and fatigue, trusting in God to provide. His ministry continued, his preaching, his teaching, his life went on, driving him to rise earlier to spend time in prayer, if his schedule prohibited him from that quality and quantity of communication with God during the day.  His relationship with the Lord took precedence over everything else and directed everything else. (Three hundred years before Finney, Martin Luther was reportedly asked how he could spend 4 hours or more a day in prayer with his rigorous schedule, to which he replied he wouldn't be able to maintain his rigorous schedule without that time in prayer.) 

And so the questions beg to be asked:
  • Are we so tired after a mere 50 or 60 hour work week because we haven't spent the hour (or two or three or four) in prayer that might have strengthened our resolve? 
  • Are we as brutally honest with ourselves, like Finney, about our weakness in the face of temptation? 
  • Should we not be more interested in reading, praying, and studying scripture than we are eager to watch some silly movie, engage in  physical exercise, be attentive and committed to a food diet, or to manage our own social media image?
  • Are we looking for approval from others more than God? 
These are the questions I am increasingly asking myself, not in a "naval gazing" sort of way, so much as a, what can I sacrifice, what am I willing to give up, in order to pursue this walk more fully? Am I willing to sell everything I have, give it to the poor and come follow Him? To Russia, Bulgaria, Detroit, or Philly? Or is my comfortable, complacency, attachment to this world, to my biological family greater than my commitment to Him?

So, as I look ahead to this chapter 11, I find myself, of necessity, asking, what am I doing to create the environment in which God can more effectively do His work through me?  How can I more fully turn every minute, every hour, of every day over to Him, so that it is no longer me who works, but He who works through me? How can I position myself to truly hear His call? His voice? His direction? And Paul's great direction to the church at Philippi comes to mind:

"...continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose." [Philippians 2:12-13]

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Job and Shawchuck


For over thirty years "A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants" by  Rueben P. Job and Norman Shawchuck (The Upper Room) has served as  an anchor in my devotional life.The "bonded leather" cover is so well-worn that I replaced it a few years ago with a piece of leather I had lying around.  The pages are beginning to discolor.  The book is filled with personal notes, under linings, and cross outs/overwrites based on my experiences in ministry and the speaking of the Spirit to me at different times.

I don't use it every morning, but many, many are the mornings when dry and weary, or hungry and hurting, I have begged for a word from the Lord and found the scripture passages and quotes wonderfully encouraging, even, at times, redeeming.

This morning I felt led to lay the book aside and instead to read an old favorite, Psalm 8 and simply to praise God in prayer. I first "heard" this Psalm proclaimed while overlooking the Rift Valley in Kenya.  Our souls were so stirred that a woman in our group simply uttered it in praise.

"O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.
You have set your glory in the heavens.Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger..."

I took to memorizing that Psalm in particular because of the impression her Spirit driven impulse had left on each of us.

And as I prayed and praise God I was convicted to read Psalm 10, and from that to turn to the "Guide to Prayer" book for another lesson. It came in 1 Corinthians 1:18ff.  I share Psalm 10 and portions of 1 Corinthians 1 with you this morning because I am personally very convicted of their application to the church today, not contemporarily, but literally, today. Perhaps the Spirit will speak to you on these matters and you might find hope, peace, and purpose in the following words directly from the breath of God himself. Let the words, simply saturate your soul and take great hope in the great God we serve.  This world is not our home. Our citizenship is in heaven and we only serve as Ambassadors of the King. Take heart, Jesus reigns!

Psalm 10

Why, Lord, do you stand far off?
    Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak,
    who are caught in the schemes he devises.
He boasts about the cravings of his heart;
    he blesses the greedy and reviles the Lord.
In his pride the wicked man does not seek him;
    in all his thoughts there is no room for God.
His ways are always prosperous;
    your laws are rejected by him;
    he sneers at all his enemies.
He says to himself, “Nothing will ever shake me.”
    He swears, “No one will ever do me harm.”

His mouth is full of lies and threats;
    trouble and evil are under his tongue.
He lies in wait near the villages;
    from ambush he murders the innocent.
His eyes watch in secret for his victims;
    like a lion in cover he lies in wait.
He lies in wait to catch the helpless;
    he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net.
His victims are crushed, they collapse;
    they fall under his strength.
He says to himself, “God will never notice;
    he covers his face and never sees.”

Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God.
    Do not forget the helpless.
Why does the wicked man revile God?
    Why does he say to himself,
    “He won’t call me to account”?
But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;
    you consider their grief and take it in hand.
The victims commit themselves to you;
    you are the helper of the fatherless.
Break the arm of the wicked man;
    call the evildoer to account for his wickedness
    that would not otherwise be found out.

The Lord is King for ever and ever;
    the nations will perish from his land.
You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted;
    you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
    so that mere earthly mortals
    will never again strike terror.

I Corinthians 1:18-31

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Is the PC(USA) still Christian?

Is the PC(USA) still Christian?

As an ordained pastor in that denomination, this is a question with which I wrestled for many years.  Even though I felt quite confident that the General Assembly, each year, consistently moved the denomination away from the confessional standards it claimed to hold to, I had no sense of "release" from the call I held to serve as a missionary pastor therein.

That call came from God.  The denomination added their imprimatur based on the successful completion of two and a half days of written tests (Bible content, Bible Exegesis, Theological Competence,Worship and the Sacraments, and Polity), and, in my case, an oral theological examination on the floors of both the Detroit Presbytery and the Pittsburgh Presbytery.

That call was reaffirmed as I moved from the Pittsburgh Presbytery to the Blackhawk Presbytery, to my work with the Presbyterian Church of East Africa and back to the Blackhawk Presbytery again, and then to work with the Church of Christ in Thailand, and the Presbyterian Church of Ghana and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Ghana, to the Northumberland Presbytery, and finally to the Coastal Carolina Presbytery. In each and every case, I went through verbal interviews, responded to theological inquiries, and provided evidence of my faith to those who asked.  I took and passed mental health tests and filled out more applications, wrote essays, and provided references. And it was in the midst of all of that examination that I began to wonder if the tests and examinations should not also be the other way around. What evidence was there of orthodox faith in the PC(USA)? 

I hemmed and hawed as I continued to preach and serve amongst some seriously committed Christians, although admittedly they were generally always elderly, the remnant of a previous faithful generation. But, especially, as I returned from service in the broader church, with other presbyterian denominations that wrestled with whether or not they could continue to partner with the PC(USA), I was forced to ask the same questions.  That's what partnership is all about - listening to the other.

The issue that continued to come to the forefront was that of "theological competence." The Presbyterian Church (USA) has a consistent track record of  prioritizing knowledge over experience (when was the last time you heard of an elder or pastor being asked to give evidence of his or her faith?), competence over obedience, and talking over doing?  I have come across too many pastors in the denomination who have never experienced the rebirth of faith that scripture commands for each of us - "you must be born again" - if we are to see the Kingdom of God. And I have asked "are you born again?" Have you had an experience of spiritual rebirth?" When did you come to know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, personally?" to blank stares and stammering of "I've always been one" "I was raised in the church..."


This seems to me to be the cardinal issue facing the denomination.  G.A. representatives gather every year under the premise of discerning the will of God. And too many of those elected representatives, while they may posses years of experience, significant participation and leadership, and knowledge about the faith, make decisions that demonstrate, unequivocably, their inability to see the Kingdom of God.  No one who knows the Lord, who obeys his commands, who demonstrates the fruit of the Spirit, can or would vote to take something identified in scripture as reprehensible to God and celebrate it.  No one who has been born from above or born again, would ever hold that sexual sin is to be celebrated, the murder of innocents is something to defend, or to deny the infallibility/inerrancy of His word.  No God-fearing child would profess to stand in opposition to his or her Father.  We don't celebrate sinfulness.  We celebrate the fact that when we turn from our sinfulness God stands ready to forgive us.  No repentance. No forgiveness. Unless we can and do repent of that which scripture clearly lables "sin" - adultery, fornication, witchcraft, necromancy, homosexuality, murder, lust, theft, sabbath breaking, taking the Lord's name in vain, idolatry, covetousness, gluttony, to name a few - our sin abides in us, it remains in us.

The Presbyterian Church (USA)'s attitude toward such sin seems to be that of the Serpent - surely God did not say...  Sometimes, I even have the sense that a more grievous attitude prevails in replies like: "oh well, Jesus died for our sins, so I don't need to worry about it" making a mockery of the cross of Christ. And yet, this once great denomination dares to declare the will of God on such matters as how Israel's boundaries should be drawn, or whether or not one might appropriately invest in Caterpillar, or RJ Reynolds, or Hewlett Packard, and of course, in spite of their claim to be "pro life" they maintain a steadfast commitment to funding and providing abortion on demand resources for all, including minors.

John Mark Reynolds has written a brief article on Patheos.com asking and answering the question "Is the PC(USA) still Christian?"  He rightly points out that no denomination, no group, no organization goes to heaven.  Individuals go to heaven and to hell.  Denominations may be identified as Christian by virtue of their historical placement in a tradition, but it is ultimately their theological position, their faith, demonstrated for all to see, that allows us to consider whether or not they are Christian.  And in this latter case the PC(USA) as a denomination fails the test, screws up the interview, loses the position.

Reynolds rightly points out that there are faithful, orthodox, believers within that denomination as well as other mainline/sideline denominations.  There are godly pastors serving congregations accordingly as well.  But the structure itself, the formal position, qualifies neither orthodoxically (right belief) or orthopraxically (right behavior) as Christian.

It is therefore incumbent upon clergy and members alike to ascertain their calling within that system: in finding a congregation which holds to the basic tenets of Christian faith and behaves accordingly; or in engaging in one which does not, as an evangelist.  (Funny thing is that though they have been provided the opportunity to declare what the essentials are, they have failed to do so. It was that reality that resulted in my choice to surrender my ordination credentials - because I was charged with violating those essentials, whatever they might be.)

This disconnect between an orthodox faith and what I was seeing and experiencing in the PC(USA) was also the reason I identified myself as a missionary/pastor when returning to the USA in 2008. I saw and continue to see the PC(USA) as a mission field, a very, very , very needy mission field.  It is becoming increasingly difficult to find either an orthodox congregation or pastor in that increasing corrupt system.

If you are in a Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation, I beg you to consider which is more important: your tradition of "membership" or your growing in Christ; in not rocking the boat, or in making a difference for Christ; in acceding to the wishes of the majority or in standing obediently in the will of God; your property or your fidelity?

"the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship him" [John 4:23]


Is the PC(USA) still Christian? The more important question is, are you?

Chapter 10 Questions



Feeding the Soul: Week 10 The Use and Abuse of Good Books–Part V Chapter 10


1.  How would I characterize my use of books?


2.  How many “spiritual classics” have I read? Can I list the lessons gleaned from them?


3.  How does my faith function as more of a mere “help me God” than a holy “glorification of God"?


4.  What does my choice of reading material say about my this?


5.  What might God be saying to me about this?

 1. How does the thought of “faith” being confidence in God’s character impact me? The truth that my hope is founded on God's charact...